This recipe needs to be made the day before you want to use the batter.
The batter is made by fermenting rice and lentils. It is simple to make, although the fermenting process can be long. Yes, you can buy instant idli batter mix to which you just add water and ferment. You could also buy ready-made batter from good Indian grocers, which tastes better. Or, as this recipe shows, you can make it yourself.
Both idli and dosa are gluten-free.
Preparing the batter can be time-consuming, as the fermenting process that creates the slightly sour taste can take time. The batter is made from (roughly) two parts rice and one half part lentils, although many will argue slightly different ratios. The lentils are washed and soaked overnight. The parboiling of the rice helps accelerate the process. The rice and the lentils are ground separately and then mixed together. The batter is then left to ferment overnight. Once fermented, the batter should be thick and creamy, but should pour off a spoon.
After the fermentation process, the batter can be steamed in disks to create idli. These are typically 5-8cm (2-3 inches) in diameter. The size and shape actually comes from the idli trays that fit into pressure cookers. The batter is also used to make dosa. For dosa the batter has to be diluted just a little to allow easy pouring. There are recipes for idli and dosa in this book.
Typically, idli are made with fresh batter in the morning and the leftover batter is diluted to make dosa in the evening. The batter can be kept refrigerated for a few days at most. Always, always allow the batter to get to room temperature before attempting to cook with it. This is a staple item in most south Indian kitchens and is made every day or so.
You need to start this batter the night before you want to use it to allow time for the fermentation.
Be aware that the fermentation occurs at room temperature. Now, “room temperature” means different things depending on whether you are in London, Sydney, or Mumbai. Keeping the batter in a warm place (over 20C) overnight will allow the process to work properly. Also, you must not beat the batter once it has fermented. The process causes small bubbles of air to form in the batter, which gives it the light fluffy texture when cooked. When you add the salt to the batter, use a very gentle folding motion to mix. And no, don’t add the salt early, because it interferes with the fermentation.
- Wash lentils, then place in a bowl with fenugreek seeds and allow to soak for four hours.
- Wash rice and add to pan with one litre of cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for five minutes or until just parboiled. Remove from heat, drain the water, reserving it for later.
- Drain lentils and fenugreek seeds, reserving the water for later.
- Grind or puree the rice to make a smooth batter, adding as little of the reserved rice cooking water as possible.
- Grind or puree the urad dal and fenugreek seeds with some of the reserved soaking water until you get a smooth and fluffy batter.
- Mix both the batters together in a large bowl with the fruit salt and mix well. Cover and let the batter ferment overnight at a warm room temperature - at least 20C. After the fermentation process is over the batter should be doubled in size with many small air bubbles.
- Add salt to batter and using a folding motion, gently mix it into the batter with a large spoon. Do not beat the mix. Be very careful not to lose the air bubbles by heavy mixing.
- This recipe must be started the day before. You need to soak the lentils for around four hours, then allow the mixture to ferment overnight.
- Fruit salt is marketed under the brand name Eno. It is best obtained from a pharmacist, as supermarkets seem to only stock flavoured variants. For this recipe you can substitute baking powder.